Previous Erie County commissioners lowered water rates when they should have raised them, did not require new water customers to pay a fair share of their expenses and permitted a water line building program that was too expensive. The net result is an operating deficit of of nearly $1.5 million since 2008 through the end of this year.
Those are the conclusions Erie County commissioner Bill Monaghan reached after carefully researching the issue, and that's what he told the public at a county commission meeting earlier this month. Perhaps it's time to ask for a state audit of the county sanitary engineer's office to find out what other problems have been created, but Monaghan already deserves a tip of the hat for taking the time to carefully research this issue and for sharing his conclusions with the people who matter most: his constituents.
We are not surprised, however, that serious financial problems are occurring inside this county agency that should be self sufficient. The net result of the botched water rates mean taxpayers pay twice: once in the water bills that come every month, and again in the county general fund money that must be used to subsidize the bad planning that's been hidden from the public for years.
We fear if Monaghan researches other aspects of county government he will find similar problems. When government operates behind closed doors and deliberates more in secrecy than in the open light of the day that's what happens. If the county's water operations are so out of joint you can bet there will be many more problems yet to be discovered if the same level of scrutiny occurs, from the sheriff's department to the county prosecutor's office to the county courthouse.
But the fear of more bad news to come is not important. It's imperative these problems be brought out because they cannot be addressed if they continue to be swept under the rug hidden from the public. Our confidence in Monaghan, and in the newest county commissioner, Pat Shenigo, is growing and both men have indicated they are researching various inefficiencies and waste in county government. That effort will begin the reforms needed to bring back financial solvency to the county.
It likely will be a long road to travel, but at least the process has begun.